Jennifer R. Donohue not only published a cyberpunk heist this fall, but she achieved Associate Membership in the SFWA!
It’s a triumph in a speculative writer’s career.
After I shed my green skin, I talked with Jen about how she met these goals, and her answer was not what I expected!
PersephoneKnits: Congratulations on your membership! I’m assuming you set a goal to make Associate. What did the steps to achieve that goal look like?
Jen Donohue: I started submitting to pro markets in 2004-2005, though I kind of had a gap in submitting, returning to it seriously in 2014. I didn’t have a specific plan….I had a finished story, proofread and polished, and I sent it to the places I’d heard of. Strange Horizons, Cemetery Dance, Fantasy Magazine. My very first personal rejection was from Cat Rambo when she was at Fantasy.
What got me submitting (and writing) more was copied from Michael Seese. I submitted a short story every day for the month of October, starting in 2015. Doing that, I realized I needed more stories; not every magazine replies quickly, and/or accepts simultaneous submissions. Starting in 2016, my writing goal was to complete at least one short story every month. Present day, I have a lot of stories submitted at any given time. I have 24 stories on submission right now.
PK: That is inspiring (and reassuring). I’d like to know more about subbing every day for a month. Literally, what was your system?
JD: I’m not actually a good planner; I tend to just decide something and then bull ahead with it, regardless of whether I really know what I’m doing. So, when I prepared to submit a story every day for a month, my method is maybe simple and brilliant, or maybe embarrassing, I’m not really in a position to say:
In a word document I made a list, numbered 1-31. Then, I populated the beginning of that list with the number of stories I had ready to submit. I looked at what markets were open, what they wanted, etc. and matched them with the stories. As the rejections came in, I added the story back to the list and sent it to the next place.
The Submission Grinder was invaluable for this; I know some people are DuoTrope people. I’m Submission Grinder people. Before the Grinder, I relied on that list of qualifying markets the SFWA has, and after those were spent I just kind of googled around for likely places. Twitter has also helped immeasurably.
PK: I have a similar system involving index cards! I know people are curious about the process of writing a short story every month. This is a huge challenge for a lot of us.
JD: Finishing a story a month is a little trickier. I got that idea from Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, who said to finish a short story a WEEK. I guess that would be possible if writing was my only job, but it isn’t.
I realized, I’m really good at STARTING stories, writing down a couple of sentences or a vague idea, and then going on to the next idea. And I needed more stories if I was going to submit every day for a month every year. I started slogging through some of the stories I’d started that didn’t go anywhere. I figured if I nailed enough things to them, eventually I’d have a picture frame, or a sled, or a house.
Sometimes, in the first few go-rounds, I’ve got a rough idea of what the story should be but wasn’t yet, and I’d add and take away, and then eventually it’s there and right. Or at least good enough for government work.
Of course, some stories come to me faster than others. “Daddy’s Girl” was one of those, and “Surveillance Fatigue.” One that went through more work and rewrites was “Sugar and Spice” (published in the Sockdolager and recently sold as a reprint [no contract yet, so I’m not saying where]).
PK: How did you make time to edit or have them beta-read first?
JD: Getting beta-reads is tricky. I do have a handful of good, patient, long-suffering friends who will read for me and who each have very valuable input they bring to the table. For some of them, their life makes it such that reading longer works for me is right out. For others, they’re so willing to help, that I feel bad if I ask them too frequently to read, even though they’re brilliant at it and have helped every single time. It’s always about balance, isn’t it?
PK: I’d like to go back and talk a little more about finding time to write on this scale when you work. Are you super disciplined? No TV? Do you feel like you’ve had to give up something to meet your own demands?
JD: I find the time to write whenever I can shoehorn it in. I am not a schedule person. And in fact, I used to very much be a night person, doing most of my writing between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. But, with the day job being more of a 9-5 now, and the puppy being a “walk a mile at 6 a.m.” kind of dog, I can’t really do the night owl thing anymore.
I’ve come to rely heavily on The Cloud, getting in words on my phone at break times, in line at the grocery store, as they come to me really. I do work on stories chronologically, from beginning to end, and I tend to have more than one I’m working on at once, little by little, until the inspiration takes me, and I bring one home across the finish line. Then, there’s the editing step.
I don’t really feel like I’ve given up anything lately. I used to play MMO’s (Final Fantasy XI, right after college, and then after I gave that up World of Warcraft for awhile) and those are VERY time-consuming, but I didn’t give those up to write more. I gave them up because I’d reached the end of my enjoyment with them. Depending on release dates, I’ll also spend a lot of time playing things like DragonAge or Fallout 4, or Final Fantasy VII on our Playstation classic.
But now (puppy permitting), I tend to fill those hours with writing and screwing around on the internet, which can be argued as gathering story fodder, so not entirely time wasted. We don’t have TV, but we have a couple of streaming services, so once in awhile I’ll binge a show. But again, I believe strongly it’s useful to the creative process to be constantly taking in media. Watering the fields, as it were, so that your stories grow.
PK: Ah, I love these answers. Robin Hobb is very clear about how she wrote with children. Waiting rooms, on the bus, beside bathtubs, that sort of thing. Exactly like you are describing. I think this message gets missed in social media spaces. There’s a lot of emphasis on writing at a desk at an established time. I think that works, but for so many it isn’t realistic. People get down on themselves thinking they’ll never be a writer because they feel they don’t have that type of space or time.
Thank you for watering our fields, so to speak, with this glimpse at how you met your goals. I wish you more success in the coming new year!
You can find more of Jen’s work at her Patreon page and buy her book, Run with the Hunted wherever suits you best. Thank you!
Jennifer R. Donohue grew up at the Jersey Shore and now lives in central New York with her husband and her Doberman. Though she got a bachelor′s degree in psychology, she has always wanted to write. She currently works at her local public library, where she also facilitates a writing workshop, and she is now a Codexian and an Associate member of the SFWA. Her work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Mythic Delirium, Syntax & Salt, Escape Pod, and elsewhere. She blogs at Authorized Musings, where she shares fiction and the tribulations of the writing life, and tweets @AuthorizedMusin.